Why We Need to Expand and Elevate the Field of Reproductive Health

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Fri Sep 23 2022

Author: Guest contributor

In this Q&A we hear from Tamara Kay and Anna Calasanti on the issue of Reproductive Justice. Tamara Kay is Editor-in-Chief of Studies in Comparative International Development and Professor, Keough School of Global Affairs and Department of Sociology, University of Notre Dame. Anna Calasanti is Managing Editor of Studies in Comparative International Development and Postdoctoral Scholar, Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame.

What is the focus of your work?

TK: My work engages two primary areas: transnational political economy, with a focus on labor and social movements; and transnational culture, centered on how cultural processes work in a globalized world. My research examines the political and legal implications of regional economic integration, transnationalism, and global governance. I am interested in understanding how civil society organizations -- particularly labor and environmental movements, as well as NGOs and nonprofits -- respond and adapt to processes of regional economic integration and globalization. I also work on issues of global health, in particular health systems, health and culture, health and development, and reproductive health and rights. Although I am focused on these issues empirically, I am also committed to building theories that transcend individual cases so that we can better understand the relationship between transnational civil society organizations and transnational governance institutions.

AC: My work combines intersectional theory and innovative methodological approaches (quantitative and qualitative) to unpack and address inequities in political and economic development in countries across the world. This includes questions about women and empowerment, experiences of intimate partner violence, bodily autonomy, environmental justice and health inequalities, decision-making ability, and access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Which audience do you aim to reach?

In our work at the journal, we speak primarily to other researchers and educators, although we are working on several initiatives which we hope will allow us to better reach policymakers and practitioners, as well as the general public.

TK: In my own research, I prioritize not only reaching other scholars, but also policymakers and the general public. My extensive policy work on labor and trade has received wide media coverage. My policy engagement on reproductive health and justice, including abortion rights, has been extensive. I have also provided policy analysis and testimony for various state governments, international NGOs, and civil society organizations on labor, international trade, and immigrant labor rights.

How important is the societal impact to your work and why?

As journal editors, we believe that our role in disseminating knowledge is one that is extremely important, not least because of the potential it has for societal impact. This is one of the reasons why we believe in the importance of uplifting marginalized voices, and also decolonizing who has access to those voices.

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) does your work most closely relate to?

TK: My work on trade and labor most closely relates to decent work and economic growth (SDG 8). My work on global health and reproductive justice speaks to SDGs on good health and well-being (3), and gender equality (5). 

AC: Much of my work directly relates to SDG 5, (empowering all women and girls) while intertwining quite naturally with additional goals, such as SDGs 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), and 10 (reduced inequality).

What does reproductive justice mean to you and how does it relate to your work?

When thinking about reproductive justice, it’s important to refer back to the 1994 definition, coined by the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, which was based on an international human rights framework that shifted the conversation away from a focus on middle- and upper-class white women, and towards the experiences and voices of Black and Indigenous women. Keeping this definition in mind is particularly important now, as we know that those who are marginalized by racial identity and who have access to fewer economic resources are likely to experience a higher burden following the June 24, 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. At the journal, we seek to prioritize the voices of scholars and practitioners from across the global South, especially when it comes to experiences of reproductive healthcare, reproductive justice, and bodily autonomy.

How is reproductive justice perceived in your part of the world? Has this perception changed over the last decade?

While reproductive justice has been a critical issue in the U.S. for decades, the recent attention in the popular discourse on reproductive rights following the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision provides us with an opportunity. As Western academics with an incredible amount of privilege, we can and should use our positions to expand the conversation in the U.S. to be inclusive while prioritizing the voices of those who will suffer the most severe consequences of the Dobbs decision. In the context of the U.S., as organizations and movements strategize how to move forward, it is especially critical that we listen to Black, Indigenous, and women of color, as well as trans* and those with few resources. It is also vital to look outside the U.S., as there are many valuable lessons we can learn from scholars, activists, and practitioners across the Global South, who have spent years laying the groundwork for more inclusive, sustainable approaches to reproductive justice. In many places, this has led to major successes in solidifying access to reproductive healthcare and more secure rights, including decriminalizing and expanding access to abortion healthcare.

What do you see as the role of publishers when it comes to reproductive justice? How can we best support researchers and society more generally?

Although research on reproductive health and justice has increased during the last five decades, it often remains siloed in certain journals, and is undervalued overall. Our goal is to expand and elevate the field of development and reproductive health by prioritizing research on these topics in our journal. We also want to foreground the work of scholars in the global South. Publishers can make a positive impact both by prioritizing the publication of work on reproductive justice, as well as by making the work itself readily available by funding open access publishing, particularly for the work of researchers who may not be able to afford the fees themselves.

What do you see as the role of funders and institutions in addressing the SDGs? Should the funding of research be more strongly tied to demonstrable societal impact?

Empirical research is critical to understanding the impact and outcomes of reproductive health strategies, policies, and practices around the world. But we also need to understand the mechanisms that undermine access to reproductive healthcare, how different factors such as race, class, and gender function both individually and together to impact access, as well as variation across and within different regions. It is also important to consider reproductive health in the context of international relations, given the disparate impact of high resource countries on healthcare access in low resource countries through foreign policy, trade, and foreign aid money and institutions. Funders and institutions can play a vital role in addressing the SDGs by facilitating more research into these and other questions, which need to be addressed along the pathway to demonstrable societal impact.

Visit Springer Nature's SDG5 Reproductive Justice page
Tamara Kay © Springer Nature 2022

About the Authors:

Tamara Kay is Editor-in-Chief of Studies in Comparative International Development and Professor, Keough School of Global Affairs and Department of Sociology, University of Notre Dame. 

Anna Calasanti © Springer Nature 2022

Anna Calasanti is Managing Editor of Studies in Comparative International Development and Postdoctoral Scholar, Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame.


Author: Guest contributor

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